Wednesday, March 18, 2009

4 Secret Agent

TITLE: One Bad Mistake
GENRE: Mystery

The blue and red lights splashed over me, circling the parking lot like a lighthouse beacon. I’d hoped staring at them would soothe me. Instead, my thoughts swirled in rhythm to their motion.

One bad mistake was all it took to destroy plans, dreams, hopes - a lesson I’d learned years ago, the hard way.

Unfortunately, Alicia had learned it now too.

I rubbed my arms briskly to erase the goose bumps prickling my skin. Glancing down, I stopped. The circling lights illuminated the rusty color staining my fingers – Alicia’s blood.

Her lesson had been harder than mine.

Tucking my clenched hands against my body, I closed my eyes, trying to escape the bloody reminder; instead, I gave my mind the opening it was waiting for.

Images in shocking Technicolor of Alicia sprawled out on the shiny tile flooded my mind like a sick slideshow. Blood pooled around her face, blending with her auburn hair before congealing. Her satin blouse partially untucked from her uncharacteristically wrinkled skirt. Her legs bent in motion as if riding a bike. One strappy dress sandal clutched in her right hand, heel facing outward, glistening like a disco ball in the harsh overhead light. Manicured nails now chipped and ragged. Her wide eyes looking upward, fixed on me.

If the memory were in black and white maybe it would be more tolerable - maybe. Trying to focus on the fresh-faced cop’s questions I gulped in the humid night air, but Alicia was all I could see.


  1. Yes, definitely hooked.

    Great show of the cop's emotion here, and great showing what happened what he/she saw without telling us. :]

    Nice writing.

  2. I love the "lesson had been harder than mine" line! And great imagery about Alicia. I especially loved the chipped and ragged nails.

    The lighthouse and Technicolor references didn't seem to fit, however. I had to think about them and that stopped the flow of the story for me.

    I was also confused when I read about the lesson your MC learned years ago. It removed me from the immediate story and I had to focus to get back on track.

  3. Her lesson had been harder than mine. Great line. There were points where I lost a connection to the character but I'm not sure why. Maybe because I couldn't identify a gender. But I liked it.

  4. Nicely done. I thought the pacing was great and you set a vivid scene. The term Technicolor did throw me out of the story for a minute, but I was hooked and would read on.

  5. Nice! Great movement and so many unanswered questions that make you want to keep reading.

    The only thing that tripped me was the second line...I don't think anyone would hope to be soothed by police lights. Their effectual design is to stimulate and promote awareness. Maybe you could say, "by closing my eyes, I hoped to find darkness that would soothe me. Instead, the intensity of the flashing lights penetrated my mind and my thoughts swirled...."

    Can't wait to read your book when it hits the bookshelves!

  6. I had a different reaction to the flashing lights, and liked the comparison to a lighthouse beacon.

    Right off I want to know what the narrator's "one bad mistake" was - and then there's the clever leap to the strong "harder lesson" of the victim.

    The graphic description of the tattered, twisted body is dandy: tightly-written and visually strong - and all made worse for the narrator because it's in "shocking Techicolor."

  7. I liked it overall. The things which tripped me up were the lapses in logic. One minute she was rubbing goosebumps from her arm, next her fingers were still bloodstained...
    Also I'm not sure what you mean by ...gave my mind the opening it was looking for? This read like she closed her eyes to block out the real victim on the ground in order to imagine the same scene in her mind...
    I'd read on though.

  8. I enjoyed the tension in the opening. I thought the details were well placed and disconcerting without being obvious. I can sense the narrator's guilt and disassociation as if in shock.

    After the nice setup, the flashback felt heavy handed. You did a good job of indicating what had happened without having to tell us. We know there's been a death and probably a gruesome one. By seeing it laid out in a flashback, I lost the immediacy of the opening and the suspense of figuring out exactly what happened.

    I think if the scene continued to unfold in "present" time, seeing how the narrator now deals with the cops, I would have been more hooked, but I would definitely keep reading.

  9. Another great one! Overall, I liked the voice in this, I liked the situation and how hard it is for your MC to focus with the image of a dead Alicia in his/her mind. It made me want to read on and find out who this is and what the heck happened.

    One or two nits -- if I'm not mistaken, blood takes a while to congeal. You need to put the sentence into the proper tense because I believe it takes a while to congeal. Also, why did her heel glisten like a disco ball? Do you mean the sandal glistened like a disco ball? It's not clear from the way you've written this.

    Also, you use the present participle a few times at the beginning of a few sentences. I think it's a great idea to avoid this if possible. Keep it to the simple past.

    I tucked my clenched hands against my body and closed my eyes, hoping to escape the bloody reminder. Instead, this gave my mind the opening it was waiting for.

    It makes it more immediate -- the present participle makes it feel a bit more distant for some reason.

    But another great opening. I would read on.

  10. I'd turn this page. Is there a reason the discovery of the body is presented in flashback when it seems like it just happened? It might have more impact if the reader experienced it real-time.

  11. I'm confused if this person killed Alicia or just found her. If he didn't kill her, he seems a bit detached. If he did kill her he doesn't seem frazzled in the right way, if that makes sense. Goosebumps and clenched hands could really mean a number of things. It needs more slant.

    But I do want to know what lesson he's talking about. And I'd keep reading to find out.

  12. Lots of unanswered questions raised here - I want to read on to find out more. Hypnotise me might make more sense than soothe me in the first paragraph. Otherwise a great opening hook.
    I'm not sure of the main character's gender - I'm guessing woman because of the focus on Alicia's clothes.
    As a medico, I think of blood as clotting, rather than congealing (that made me think of fat congealing in a frypan). Maybe that's just me.
    I like your use of the one line paragraphs for emphasis. Good luck.

  13. Well done! I am definitely hooked.

    One start us in a parking lot, then describe Alicia "sprawled out on the shiny tile." Did the MC move her outside? Is that why the MC's (gender not clear--is there a reason you're keeping that a mystery?) fingers are stained with blood?

    Okay, that's 3 questions, but all just about one tiny point that tripped me up. I would certainly read on to get the answers.

  14. So many novels begin with a character staring off into the distance, reflecting on whatever tragedies have recently befallen them, and not DOING anything. It’s clichĂ© and a weak opening, IMHO. The set up here is great! A murder. Start with that. Put us in the moment. Let us see the (unnamed) MC reacting to finding the body, rather that just learning about it after the fact.

  15. While I liked the writing style, the plot didn't move for me. Because of the great line about learning lessons, I'd give it a couple of pages to see what developed.

  16. This is a really personal thing, but I found the short paras the start jarring.

    You might think this is totally weird, but had you considered using the last para here as your first and weaving the rest as you go?

  17. Ditto the many great comments. I too, liked the idea of the last paragraph moved up to the first line. A lot of great imagery, but if I had blood on my hands I wouldn't want to get blood on the rest of me.

  18. Gripping. Full of tension and dismay over what's just happened. We don't know yet, but we know enough. You've done a great job with this. I definitely would read on to find out what happened to her. By then, you'd have hooked me on something else, I believe, so I'd read on some more. Good work. I saw a couple of line item edits, but your crit group can help you iron those problems out.

  19. Needs tightening; like, a lot. Perfectly fine beginning, and I feel like I will like the cop. You need to watch cliches; but I'd certainly continue.

    Secret Agent

  20. Thank you everyone and Secret Agent for your thoughtful comments and suggestions! You've given me a lot to consider.

    For those who were wondering about gender, it is revealed a couple of sentences after this excerpt ends (female). I wasn't intentionally hiding the gender, but a few lines later was the first natural place to indicate it.

    Take care!